October 20, 2016
“Whiteness is not inevitable”: Claudia Rankine on “the racial imaginary”
by Taylor Sperry
During recent visits to three different bookstores, National Book Award finalist and MacArthur “genius” Claudia Rankine was met with confusion when she sought recommendations for “books on whiteness.”
“You know,” she recalled in an interview with Steven W. Thrasher at The Guardian, “Books that address the ways in which white contemporary artists deal with whiteness, interrogate it, analyze it, work in ways that push up with constructions of whiteness.”
That these booksellers didn’t carry what she was looking for—much less understand what she meant in the first place—is part of the reason Rankine is donating her entire $625,000 MacArthur grant to found a Racial Imaginary Institute in downtown Manhattan: “a space which allows us to show art, to curate dialogues, have readings, and talk about the ways in which the structure of white supremacy in American society influences our culture.”
Rankine told Thrasher she understood why people were uncomfortable placing whiteness at the center of attention, but that that made it all the important to do so. “I think we’ve seen whiteness centralized forever, so they’re no longer interested in making it the subject,” she said. “But I think that it’s been centralized in order to continue its dominance, and its never been the object of inquiry to understand its paranoia, its violence, its rage.”
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.